The Restored Burlington Northern Depot & WWII Memorial Museum
World War II – the war front and the home front
THE SECOND WORLD WAR
The War Front *******
An Army at Dawn: The War in North Africa, 1942-1943
by Rick Atkinson, excerpts of which centers on Robert Moore and his men
from Montgomery County, Iowa. Follow the soldiers from their drilling
in the Villisca, Iowa, town square, to landing on the Algiers beaches,
U.S. infantry and armor withdrawal at Faïd Pass, heavy casualties
on Hill 609, and ultimately capturing the Axis troops in Tunisia.
After-action Battle of Sidi bou Zid report extracts on the North
Africa Tunisia Campaign, in which soldiers from Montgomery County, Iowa,
as part of the 168th Infantry Regiment, 34th “Red Bull” Infantry Division, participated:
"Time of attack: 0730 hours [01 FEB 1943]. At this juncture about 50 German dive bombers
suddenly appeared and started raining bombs down on the troops. No anti-aircraft artillery
was available! Only the 30 and 50 caliber machine guns mounted on half-tracks and tanks,
all of which went into action, as well as many of the rifles of the Infantry.
The desert was soon littered with burning tanks and half-tracks. Several planes plummeted
to earth in flames and many white parachutes dotted the sky as some were able to jump before
going down. After dropping their bomb loads, the Germans withdrew."
“The enemy attacked at 0630 hours [14 FEB 1943] with two divisions of Panzers, the 10th
and the 21st. The German Group Commander of the Panzer Divisions was General Schmidt.
The enemy first hit DJ. Lessouda [ Djebel Lessouda (644 m) – a bold butte with excellent
observation over the wide stretches of plain which encircle it ] with two battalions of tanks,
one from the north and one from the east. The heavy north westerly wind had been blowing
all night, during which the tanks moved up in the face of the wind without their noise being
detected. Patrols had been ordered out every night by higher authority, in spite of the fact
that there was but a restricted sector to patrol in the front. It was obvious to anyone that the
enemy could locate the patrols and grab them at any time that they might wish to do so.
One patrol stationed near FAÏD PASS on Saturday night was never heard of afterwards.
Outside of one or two patrols to capture prisoners, it appeared that the patrols were
unnecessary. Quite often most of them were killed, as the Germans would lie in wait for
the patrols after the first couple of nights. Coming from the north and the east the two
forces of German tanks closed on DJ. LESSOUDA. Through his field glasses Colonel
Drake counted eighty-three German tanks in front of DJ. LESSOUDA. At daylight there
were flashes of gun fire from the two German forces direct on the position. This almost
instant action destroyed all seven of the American tanks with Lt Colonel Waters. There
were a few pieces of armored artillery which were knocked out at the same time. One
company of infantry out on the desert dug-in in front of DJ. LESSOUDA was immediately
overrun. What became of the infantry in those holes was never known, though two or three
men from that company said that the men could be seen lying in the fox holes and the
enemy tanks would put a track in the fox hole, turn around on them and crush the soldier
into the ground. The remainder of the battalion was back in the hills just outside of
DJ. LESSOUDA and later, under [ Major Robert R. Moore, commander of the 2nd Battalion,
168th Infantry Regiment ] Major Moore, about half of them got through to the American lines.”
Read the above after-action reports, in their entirety, covering period from bivouac
at El Biar, Algeria, to Battle of Sened Station, actions at Djebels Lessouda, Ksaira,
and Garet Hadid, to POW camps in Germany and Poland.
Colonel Thomas D. Drake, 02 APR 1945:
An after-action report on the Italian Campaign:
"Company "F" [of the 168th Infantry Regiment] reached the crest of hill 1168 at first light
[24 SEP 1944]. A dense fog has settled on the mountain-top. Captain Frank M. Cockett,
Company Commander, ordered the 1st Platoon to out-post the Company position...Before the
Platoon had time to organize a position...the enemy had set up a machine gun and opened fire,
forcing the Platoon to withdraw a short distance and dig in. No position was secure on the hill
With the limited visibility, the enemy could infiltrate through the thick undergrowth to within
a few feet of a position before being detected. One German walked within ten feet of a position
before he was observed and fired upon. The enemy persisted in his attempts to infiltrate the
Company's position throughout the day. A prisoner reported that the men of his group wanted
to surrender but after that their officer had threatened to shoot anyone of them who made the attempt.
Whatever the truth of this report, the Germans continued to run toward the Company's position
with their hands up, some with the hope of being captured, and others only to drop and fire."
Read the above after-action report, in its entirety:
The Nazi “88” Made Believers, by Chaplain (Major) Harry P. Abbott, USA, 1946, excerpt:
“Message to Servicemen and Servicewomen…Many of you have traveled through the inky
darkness of night with no light of any kind, not knowing what the next movement had in store
for you, as has the writer. Many of you have seen your buddies go to their untimely end in
making the supreme sacrifice; many of you have spent sleepless nights moving up to the front;
many of you have lived a part of your lives in foreign lands and have dodged bombs and
bullets and German “88s” as has the writer; many of you have lived gone without the luxury
of a good meal, and have lived on C-rations and K-rations for weeks and even months;
many of you have had to sleep in muddy open fields, in puptents, or live in tanks or planes;
many of you have traveled over the country-side of hostile nations, always pressing on,
and when going the wrong way your hearts were made heavy, such as were ours
at Kasserine and at other places; many of you have gone to almost the breaking
point and have reached the stage where you felt that it didn’t matter; and yet
now we are returning to all the things that we dreamed of while were overseas.”
Kasserine Pass Battle – the combatants, engagements, and significance, including commentary, maps,
strategy & tactics, operations, airpower, allies & axis, planning, attack & withdrawal, and remembrance
WWII photos of Tunisia terrain, from To Bizerte with the II Corps 23 April – 13 May 1943, first published 1943,
one of a series of War Department studies showing soldiers “…the part they and their comrades
played in achievements which do honor to the record of the United States Army.”
The American Forces in Action series of War Department studies, first published during WWII or soon thereafter:
WWII history of the 34th “Red Bull” Infantry Division:
WWII history of the Iowa National Guard, on the Iowa National Guard website:
History of the 34th “Red Bull” Infantry Division, on the Minnesota National Guard website:
The Home Front *******
From Pulitzer Prize-winning No Ordinary Time (1), pp 436-7: “It had been a long struggle
for the Allies, longer than expected. After the first flush of victory in French North Africa,
the Allied drive on Tunis had come up against the fierce resistance of reinforced German
forces under the leadership of the great ‘Desert Fox’, German General Erwin Rommel.
On February 20, at Kasserine Pass, inexperienced American forces had encountered their
first blitzkrieg attack by German tanks, artillery, and dive-bombers. Though the Americans
fought bravely, they were outmaneuvered by the seasoned German troops: their defense
of the pass was ill-conceived, their tanks were under-armed, their equipment was inferior,
their training for the removal of mines was inadequate, and their air-ground communications
were faulty. The Germans broke through the pass, destroyed a large cache of weapons,
and took thousands of American prisoners.
Two weeks after the battle of Kasserine Pass, a telegram addressed to Mrs. Mae Stifle on
Corning Street arrived at the Western Union Station in the small town of Red Oak, Iowa,
population six thousand. ‘The Secretary of War desires me to express his deep regret that
your son Daniel Stifle…is missing in action.’ Fifteen minutes later, a second telegram arrived,
telling Mrs. Stifle that her second son, Frank, was also missing in action. A few minutes later,
Mrs. Stifle’s daughter, Marie, received word that she had lost her husband, Daniel Wolfe.
As the evening wore on, the telegrams kept coming until there were twenty-seven.
The Gillespies on Second Street had lost two boys – Charles, twenty-two, and Frank twenty.
Duane Dodd and his cousins, the two Halbert boys, were missing.
The families gathered in the lobby of the Hotel Johnson, next door to the Western Union Station,
and tried to make sense of what was happening. Someone recalled seeing something in the
papers about a difficult engagement at a place called Kasserine Pass, but it would take weeks
for the people of this small town to come to understand that their entire National Guard unit
had been destroyed in a single battle. Red Oak had suffered a disproportionate loss, greater
than any other town in the United States. Only two years earlier, the members of Company M
had marched side by side through the streets on their way to war; now their names were listed
side by side on the official casualty list.
Red Oak, Iowa, was the ‘hometown we dreamed of overseas,’ one serviceman wrote
after the war, ‘rich and contented, with chicken and blueberry pies on Sundays, for
whose sake, some said, we were fighting the war.’ Looking up main street, one could
see the newly painted store fronts of J. C. Penney and Montgomery Ward, the sandstone
structure of the Hudson State Park [ rather, perhaps Houghton State Bank, corner of
3rd and Coolbaugh Streets ], and across the way, the Green Parrot, an ice-cream
parlor full of young people. On the road into Red Oak was the Grand Theater, where
farmers from surrounding towns brought their children on Saturdays for a double feature.
Everyone in this small town knew someone on the list.
By March, the Americans had recovered from their reversal at Kasserine Pass and
were pushing forward aggressively. By April, with General Patton in command,
American troops has finally joined up with General Montgomery’s Eighth Army,
having started two thousand miles apart. The Axis forces were driven eastward and
trapped in the Tunisian tip, where they surrendered. Nearly a quarter-million Germans
and Italians were taken prisoner. The Allied victory in Africa was complete.”
(1) By Doris Kearns Goodwin, Copyright 1994. Published by Simon & Schuster, New York,
New York, USA. Used by permission of Beth Laski & Associates. All rights reserved.
“Red Oak waits – waits for its youth to come back” (LIFE Magazine, 13 SEP 1943):
“The town of Red Oak, Iowa, seat of Montgomery county, sits comfortably on one of the
Missouri’s tributaries – the East Nishnabotna. It is one of those larger, softer reproductions
of a New England village that the pioneers left behind them all across the continent… In
Red Oak today there are only older people and children. When the war came the young men
enlisted. They did not wait to be drafted. They distressed the urban intellectuals by their
seeming unconcern with war aims and idealogies. But idealogies do not need to carry brand
labels or be formidably unintelligible. These boys had a system of beliefs – not simple
indeed, but very old and deep-lying, which require them to fight, as their fathers and grandfathers
did, as soon as it becomes clear to them that trouble is rolling down their land.
Their war aims are to stamp out that trouble, to see for themselves Berlin and Tokyo as captured
capitals – and then come home…Meanwhile Red Oak waits – waits for its youth to come back.
‘Return to normalcy’ is not a suspect phrase there. It means simply when the young men and
women are home again, and the stores that the draft and the shortages have closed reopen, and
the children go to bed in their parents’ new small houses, and early evening is a bustle of shopping
and young laughter. Evenings are quiet now. The grandparents’ tend to drift to the green near the
courthouse. It is a pleasant place for talk or a game of checkers, in summer. And big in the center,
much bigger than the plaque which lists the dead of 1917-18, stands the boards that give the names
of the Red Oak men in the service. The dead are marked plainly, but every father and mother in
Red Oak can tell you too just who has been wounded or taken prisoner.”
“World War II & the American Home Front”, A National Historic Landmarks
Theme Study, National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, OCT 2007, pp 76-77:
“Despite nearly unanimous support for the war effort, government leaders worried that public
willingness to sacrifice might lag in a long war. In 1942 President Roosevelt established the
Office of War Information (OWI), which took charge of domestic propaganda and worked
with Hollywood filmmakers and New York copywriters to sell the war at home…The messages
were simplistic…A description of a small town in Iowa, written shortly after the war
[ Red Oak Hasn’t Forgotten by Milton Lehman in Saturday Evening Post, 17 AUG 1946, p 14 ]
…reflects one of those myths: ‘the home town we dreamed of overseas; rich and contented,
with chicken and blueberry on Sundays, for whose sake some said we were fighting the war.’.”
“An American Story – The Life and Times of a Midlands Family –
From WWII to Vietnam,The Life of Our Nation Reflected in 4 Iowans”
“Homecoming”, one of the most enduring images from World War II, symbolized
the hopes of a generation whose men fought in that war. Read about the war hero
Brigadier General Robert Ross Moore and the family in that image:
An American Story (0.4 MB)
ALSO, listen to Iowans about their:
WWII stories from the war front and home front, courtesy of Iowa Public TV:
MORE, “Stories of Service – WWII”
AND, this memorable video:
The Restored Burlington Northern Depot & WWII Memorial Museum